Ryan Frantz
Just Buy it Already

For the Impatient

It’s a classic conundrum: Do you build something you need to support your product? Or do you buy it?

In 2023, for most organizations, the better option is to buy. Nearly every time.

What are You Building?

What is the product you’re building? What facets of the problem space do you believe your knowledge and experience add the most value to? The answers to those questions inform what you should build.

The rest? Buy it.

By “the rest”, I’m referring to all the software and systems you need to support your product. These are the things that are certainly necessary to operate your business but aren’t directly the things that embody the value of the product itself.

Yeah, But I Only Have So Much Money

Especially for a new or early product, paying the dollar costs for supporting software, systems, and solutions is going to be better than paying the opportunity costs that prevent you from getting your product in front of customers.

The most valuable information you’ll get is feedback from customers. If your business is delivering gourmet dog food, neither Fido nor their human are going to care how good you are at running mailing lists or building login pages. They’re coming to you because they want whole chicken, wild-caught salmon, and ethically-sourced vegatables in their kibble.

Also, many services offer very generous free tiers that allow you to test and validate them in low-risk, low-cost (free!) ways. For my time and money, that’s where I’d start. Every time.

It Can’t be That Bad!

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Listen, friend: just because you can do something, does not mean that you should.

Personally, I have deep and even esoteric knowledge of many systems and solutions. And if I can help it, I will never build and operate another email platform or authentication system ever again. It takes a lot of time and effort to set those up and more to operate and maintain them. That is time and effort that likely is better applied to work that adds value to my product.

You can still benefit from that knowledge, too. Those skills don’t go too waste because you’ll use them to vet vendor solutions and capabilities. You’re not simply outsourcing for its own sake; you will find and use vendors you have confidence in, because you need to focus on your product’s value.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to build some supporting software but you still think you need to build it. That means you need to hire for that experience. Notwithstanding the lead times to source and interview candidates, how confident are you in your ability to vet them for that same experience? And if you do manage to hire someone, how long will it take to deliver that thing? Your time is a scarce resource. It would be a better use of your time to rely on a vendor and instead focus on the core of your product.

Finally, lest you think the nearly-always-buy position is naive, I know it’s not as simple as composing off-the-shelf parts into your product without some amount of work. But I can promise you the difference between building and buying something you can plug in (filling gaps, as needed) is significant.

If you still feel the need to build, consider this: when competing with another company building a similar product, the one that ships first and gets customer feedback is always going to take the lead. First-mover advantage can be squandered certainly, but they always set the stage for what matters in a product space because they get mindshare first.

I’m Still Not Convinced Building is a Bad Proposition

Skepticism can be healthy. So I’ll enumerate some examples of some of the work that would be required to operate typical parts of a product.


I’ve run Sendmail, Postfix. Even Exchange. Here is a non-exhaustive set of things you need to manage:


This problem space requires deep and often estoteric knowledge. It is difficult to get right. And it is so important to the customer’s on-boarding experience.


You’re in business to make money. But you already know that. Again, a non-exhaustive (but eye-opening) set of responsibilities you take on if you want to build your own support.

Things Change

At some point, it does make sense to revisit the question of build-vs-buy. Typically it arises from some need that is less about product value and more about the maturity of your organization. Perhaps you want to manage your overhead better. If you’re in a good spot and have the talent to address it, you might be able to bring that support in-house and reduce your costs. Unless you’re a large company, this likely isn’t a problem you have. So don’t try to solve that problem today.

Solve the problems you have today. And buy what you need to get to tomorrow.